Reinventing Communist Politics

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Composition A19, 1927
Las­z­lo Moholy-Nagy, Com­po­si­tion A19, 1927

Francesco Rapar­el­li: An orig­i­nal “con­stel­la­tion” of cap­i­tal is pre­sent­ed in Bor­der as Method. The notion of the “mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of labor,” in par­tic­u­lar, clear­ly grasps the “great trans­for­ma­tion” in which we are immersed. Is a com­mu­nist pol­i­tics that takes seri­ous­ly the irre­ducible mul­ti­plic­i­ty of exploita­tion that you describe so well still pos­si­ble?

San­dro Mez­zadra: My work with Brett, Bor­der as Method, but also our new book that we just fin­ished writ­ing (The Pol­i­tics of Oper­a­tions: Exca­vat­ing Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism), is an attempt to define a method in order to crit­i­cal­ly under­stand the “glob­al” dimen­sion. I believe that it was already clear in Bor­der as Method: in any case, in our new book we explic­it­ly affirm (with due mod­esty) that for us this method has a mean­ing inso­far as it enhances the search for a com­mu­nist pol­i­tics. I was say­ing - the “glob­al dimen­sion,” Marx already thought com­mu­nism in this dimen­sion in his youth. “Inter­na­tion­al mar­ket” and “pro­le­tar­i­an inter­na­tion­al­ism”: for Marx, the world is the back­drop for the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my and com­mu­nist pol­i­tics. What excep­tion­al “pow­ers of inven­tion” (to take up a cat­e­go­ry of our clas­sics, of ‘60s operais­mo): it is cer­tain­ly eas­i­er today than it was in the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tu­ry to see the glob­al con­nec­tions that join togeth­er labor pow­er! Then, of course, to think and to enact a pol­i­tics of this labor pow­er is anoth­er sto­ry. Capital’s oper­a­tions have glob­al force: how should we con­front them? The notion of the “mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of labor” points to all the dif­fi­cul­ties of such an endeav­or. At the same time, how­ev­er, it points – so to speak pos­i­tive­ly - to some­thing fun­da­men­tal: com­mu­nist pol­i­tics today can­not but assume as its pre­sup­po­si­tion the “mul­ti­plic­i­ty,” the irre­ducibil­i­ty of “dif­fer­ence.” Here, the fem­i­nist les­son fun­da­men­tal for us.

FR: “Dual pow­er” and “per­ma­nent rev­o­lu­tion” are two key con­cepts with which to think 1917, whose cen­te­nary is marked this year. We live in anoth­er con­junc­ture.  Yet, if we want to reflect on the actu­al­i­ty of com­mu­nism we can­not in any way escape the prob­lem of pow­er. Which of the two afore­men­tioned con­cepts would you then save?

SM: “Dual pow­er” is an extreme­ly impor­tant cat­e­go­ry for me. Con­clud­ing The Pol­i­tics of Oper­a­tions, we try to sug­gest some lines of research about this theme. It is almost super­flu­ous to add that to talk about “dual pow­er” means to talk about Lenin. Imme­di­ate­ly upon his return to Rus­sia in April 1917, Lenin writes that after the Feb­ru­ary Rev­o­lu­tion there were two pow­ers: that of the Pro­vi­sion­al gov­ern­ment (the “gov­ern­ment of the bour­geoisie”) and “anoth­er gov­ern­ment, still weak, embry­on­ic, but nev­er­the­less real and devel­op­ing: the Sovi­ets of the work­ers and sol­diers deputies.” Lenin’s genius, in absolute­ly unique con­di­tions (unre­peat­able) of world war and rev­o­lu­tion, con­sist­ed in show­ing the Bol­she­viks the main task: to wait for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to break that dual­ism, to orga­nize the insur­rec­tion. We have to lay claim to Lenin’s genius: but this can only mean col­lec­tive­ly pro­duc­ing an inno­va­tion at the height of that genius. We don’t have time for car­i­ca­tures and mim­ic­ries.  Of course, the prob­lem of pow­er remains fun­da­men­tal for com­mu­nist pol­i­tics: but it is about think­ing – and act­ing – this prob­lem in com­plete­ly new con­di­tions, as much on the side of cap­i­tal as on the com­po­si­tion of “liv­ing labor.” In short, pre­cise­ly as a line of research and exper­i­men­ta­tion: our task is to think dual pow­er as a con­stant polit­i­cal for­mu­la that artic­u­lates the dynam­ics of strug­gle, trans­for­ma­tion, and gov­ern­ment through a sys­tem of counter-pow­ers. In Rome, I would like to say a lit­tle more on this sub­ject.

FR: The Boli­var­i­an wind in Latin Amer­i­ca is inter­pret­ed by many, in par­tic­u­lar in Europe, as relaunch­ing the strate­gic func­tion of the state for social­ism. You know the Latin-Amer­i­can polit­i­cal scene could you explain why today “social­ism in one coun­try” is still an insuf­fi­cient pro­pos­al?

SM: It is true, I know Latin Amer­i­ca. I was there for longer peri­ods in the last few years, I have fol­lowed and in a way lived the Latin Amer­i­can process­es, espe­cial­ly after encoun­ter­ing Colec­ti­vo Situa­ciones of Buenos Aires in 2002. What hap­pened in Latin Amer­i­ca in the last fif­teen, twen­ty years? An impres­sive cycle of strug­gles that opened the spaces with­in which expe­ri­ences of new “pro­gres­sive” gov­ern­ments devel­oped (and we have to think of these gov­ern­ments togeth­er in their het­ero­gene­ity if we are to under­stand some­thing: Chavez and Lula, Morales and Kirch­n­er). “The strug­gles come first”: I am not sure if it always works, but Latin Amer­i­ca is an instruc­tive illus­tra­tion of this mot­to. And from the begin­ning of the new cen­tu­ry, the strug­gles have tak­en on, in tur­bu­lent and spe­cif­ic ways, a con­ti­nen­tal scale. “Pro­gres­sive” gov­ern­ments have insert­ed them­selves into this scale and the inte­gra­tion process­es of the 2000s were the key con­di­tion of their strength. What I was say­ing ear­li­er about “dual pow­er” seemed to find its exem­pli­fi­ca­tion in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, even if occa­sion­al­ly and in pro­found­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry ways. But today, we are faced with the cri­sis and exhaus­tion of that polit­i­cal cycle. What are the rea­sons behind this cri­sis? My answer is brief but clear: on the one hand, the slow­ing down of the inte­gra­tion process­es and retreat of the “pro­gres­sive” gov­ern­ments at the nation­al lev­el; on the oth­er hand, the under­stand­ing of the State as a priv­i­leged, if not exclu­sive cen­ter of the process of trans­for­ma­tion and gov­ern­ment. It is a ques­tion of polit­i­cal real­ism: the State, as I have writ­ten with Brett some time ago, lacks the strength to face up to the oper­a­tion of con­tem­po­rary glob­al cap­i­tal (either to break the dom­i­na­tion of cap­i­tal, or “mit­i­gate” it by more or less rad­i­cal reforms). How to put it? Anoth­er pow­er is nec­es­sary; and anoth­er space beyond the nation is nec­es­sary.

FR: Your research about the new migra­tion regime has pro­vid­ed us with a reflec­tion on the new pro­duc­tive strate­gies marked by the “col­or line,” but also and above all on the inad­e­qua­cy of a polit­i­cal prac­tice inca­pable of bridg­ing and sus­tain­ing the strug­gles of migrants. Is it pos­si­ble to win a com­mon posi­tion by refus­ing the eth­nic seg­men­ta­tion of the labor mar­ket, and espe­cial­ly the return, even on the left, of nation­al­ism?

SM: These are the stakes in the rein­ven­tion of a com­mu­nist pol­i­tics. The encounter with migra­tion, even in the 1990s, was for many of us a sort of new dis­cov­ery of the world, or sim­ply a dis­cov­ery of how much it had changed. It is true, from that moment onwards, that the theme of “col­or line” was at the cen­ter of my research, but also at the cen­ter of my con­tin­ued attempts to do pol­i­tics. Migra­tion showed me, along with fem­i­nism, the strate­gic impor­tance of “dif­fer­ence”; strate­gic in orga­niz­ing the rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion and exploita­tion; but also strate­gic as a con­struc­tion of the pol­i­tics of lib­er­a­tion as well (which for me is anoth­er way of nam­ing “a com­mu­nist pol­i­tics”). No one said it bet­ter than Audre Lorde, not by chance a black les­bian fem­i­nist writer and poet. It is a pas­sage that we quot­ed in Bor­der as Method; I repeat it here, by way of con­clu­sion, as a sort of an axiom for a com­mu­nist pol­i­tics to come: “It is with­in our dif­fer­ences that we are both most pow­er­ful and most vul­ner­a­ble, and some of the most dif­fi­cult tasks of our lives are the claim­ing of dif­fer­ences and learn­ing to use those dif­fer­ences as bridges rather than as bar­ri­ers between us.”

– Trans­lat­ed by Tijana Okić

This arti­cle is part of a dossier enti­tled The Return of Com­mu­nism

Author of the article

teaches Political Theory at the University of Bologna, has long been engaged in activist projects, and is an active participant in the "post-workerist" debate (see particularly Euronomade). Among other books, he is, with Brett Neilson, author of Border as Method.